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(Updated June 22, 2016)

Greetings Bayway Neighbors!

In our June 17 email below on the Bayway toll situation, we mentioned that we were scheduled to meet today with Representative Kathleen Peters, whose Florida House district includes the Bayway and Tierra Verde. Bill Blazowski and Walter Donnelly met with her today, and spent more than an hour discussing the background for the Bayway tolls, the changes to the toll law during the 2016 Legislative Session, and steps that the ABC and the Legislature should now take to roll back the cancellation of the $50 annual Bayway "commuter" pass, that the Governor signed into law on April 14th.

Rep. Peters noted that the impetus and most of the action on the commuter pass matter came from the Senate side of the Legislature, and from the Florida DOT. The primary issue was a desire to accelerate construction of a new bridge to Tierra Verde. Alignment of the Bayway within the Florida Turnpike system would provide near-term access to the Turnpike funding for this purpose.

We are assured that there will be no near-term changes in the commuter pass offering. In fact, in response to her concerns, the Secretary of Transportation has written Rep. Peters a letter indicating the FDOT has no intention of taking any action to eliminate the pass. FDOT will issue an administrative ruling to continue the existing pass arrangements until a new law is passed. Rep. Peters offered to get the ABC in a conference call with the Secretary of Transportation so we could hear his commitment to preserving the $50 commuter pass directly from him, and we readily accepted.

When the House and Senate reconvene in the fall, there will need to be new legislation to reverse that which was signed on April 14. Rep. Peters offered to have the ABC involved in the law rewrite process, another good idea that we immediately accepted. Sen. Brandes is our next stop in following the "trap lines" on tolls and passes and we fully expect his strong support as well. The ABC will seek the help of their staffs as well as City resources as we formulate our expectations on the specifics of the new legislation.

In sum, there apparently is strong commitment by our elected Legislators to put the $50 commuter pass back into the Laws of Florida, but a considerable amount of work has to be done here and in Tallahassee before it will take full effect next spring. Today, at our first stop with Rep. Peters, we were assured that by next year at this time we will be back to the same toll/pass situation that has governed the Bayway since 1985. The ABC will be diligent in making sure that promise is fulfilled.

Respectfully,

Walter Donnelly
Bill Blazowski
ABC

Updated June 17, 2016)

This email and attachment was received this afternoon from Rep. Kathleen Peters.

From: Peters, Kathleen [mailto:Kathleen.Peters@myfloridahouse.gov]
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2016 2:43 PM
Subject: RE: Bayway toll (HB 7061)

FYI, Please see attached.  I apologize for the confusion.  Because the legislation states “May” transfer, the department has the authority to not follow what is stated in the bill.  This is often done to assist if the is ever a glitch in the bill.  The goal was to push up construction of the new Tierra Verde bridge.  There was never intent to change toll passes.

Representative Kathleen Peters
Florida House of Representatives, District 69
1700 66th Street N, Ste 203
St. Petersburg, FL 33707
P: 727-341-7385
F: 727-341-7387

(Updated June 17, 2016)

Greetings Bayway Neighbors!

Many of you may be starting to hear the word spread about the recent action of the Legislature to repeal the law that set up the $50 Bayway commuter toll. The ABC learned of this a week ago. We've been working on it since. The rumor is true, although it probably won't have any immediate or near-term effect on the use of commuter passes. We are being told that it was an inadvertent oversight in a bill that was intended to accelerate the construction of a new Bayway bridge to Tierra Verde, and will be reversed.

In any case, we are meeting with Rep. Kathleen Peters this week to listen to her explanation and plans to undo the damage. It's likely we'll talk to Sen Brandes at some point as well. Our St. Pete elected officials are behind us on the need to turn the situation around, and are talking to their own connections.

To keep from spreading unfounded rumors, we had intended to hold off notifying everyone until we could verify the facts face-to-face in a couple of days. We'd still like to do that, but you may expect an update no later than Wednesday of this week.

Cheers,

Walter Donnelly and Bill Blazowski
Alliance for Bayway Communities

{Updated June 11, 2016)

Pinellas Bayway Toll Increase on the Way

On March 8th, 2016 Florida Senator Jeff Brandes introduced an amendment to House Bill 7061 which, among other changes, eliminated the $50.00 annual commuter pass for Pinellas Bayway users. Other changes included the transfer of ownership of the Bayway to the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, and the elimination of free passage through the toll plazas for official vehicles..

A vote on the amended bill passed in both the House and Senate on March 11, just three days later. Voting for the amended bill was our representative Kathleen Peters.  It boggles our Association members’ minds that this type of legislation can happen without the affected residents being consulted - or even aware - that it is happening.  Your Board has been told that the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city of St. Petersburg didn’t know either, and thus our elected officials did not have a chance to weigh in on the decisions that were made.

For working residents on Tierra Verde who currently have the $50 commuter pass, their cost to drive to and from their home will increase from $50 annually to (currently $.53) for each roundtrip.  Based on a 48 week work calendar that is $127.20.  Add in driving for a weekly shopping trip, some trips to the beach, and a little entertainment and residents could easily find themselves paying $150 a year in tolls.  THAT is why the legislature in 1985 specified a $50.00 commuter pass. That pass should be restored NOW pending next year’s session, where we hope our legislators will introduce a bill to reinstate this protection for the citizens in our district.

While some may argue that the Bayway is an affluent area and these tolls are “affordable”, they would miss the deleterious impact these changes will have on St. Petersburg residents in the hospitality and other fields who must commute daily to their jobs in Tierra Verde and St. Pete Beach.  Like our residents, they have no option other than to take the toll road. And the financial impact on them will be much greater, since they will have to pay the toll in both directions.

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